THE actress who plays the iconic character Lilian Bellamy on BBC Radio 4’s long-running The Archers is coming to Hereford with her one-woman show to raise money for the city’s Hope Scott House.

Sue Bradley discovers what An Evening with Sunny Ormonde has in store for the event at Lyde Court on March 15.

Man-hunting, gin-drinking and cigarette smoking: the character of Lilian Bellamy has added plenty of spice to storylines on The Archers since returning to the popular series just over two decades ago.

At times outrageous and raunchy, but always loyal and loveable, it’s difficult to imagine anybody but Sunny Ormonde playing the horse-riding businesswoman with a colourful romantic life.

Yet there was a time when her suitability for the part was in doubt because her natural voice sounded relatively youthful, which prompted the actress to dig deep into her years of experience, including her time in repertory theatre, to make it her own.

“Lilian was one of the original characters on The Archers, but hadn’t appeared on the show for 10 years, having gone off to Guernsey as a tax exile,” Sunny explains.

“The original Lilian had been quite staid and upright and they wanted the new Lilian to be quite raunchy.

“My friend Sara Coward, who played Caroline Sterling, encouraged me to contact the editor, Vanessa Whitburn. Vanessa said I was more than welcome to audition but thought I might sound too young vocally to play the gin drinking and cigarette smoking ‘Lilian’.

“I was presented with a script and I thought I would have a bit of fun with it; nobody was more surprised than me when they rang and said I had the part. On radio you have to create a 3D character, as people can’t see you, and I knew that Lilian’s lifestyle would have an effect on her voice, making it gravelly.”

As for Lilian’s instantly-recognisable gin-soaked laugh, Sunny says it was inspired by Barbara Windsor.

“To be honest, I think it’s the laugh that did it,” she confides.


Alongside her regular appearances on The Archers, Sunny appears all over the UK with her one-woman show, a ‘pot-pourri of an evening’ that draws upon her vast repertoire as an actress, including scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cider with Rosie and Shirley Valentine, with a lashings of Lilian’s trademark good humour, banter and racy asides.

“There’s something in it for everyone, and you don’t have to be an Archers fan to enjoy it,” says Sunny.

“It’s led by Lilian; she’s quite outrageous and people say they laugh so much when I’m performing as her, but there are serious elements to it too. I’ve been acting since I was 18, so there are lots of stories to share.”

On March 15 Sunny will be at Lyde Court in Hereford to help raise funds for the city’s Hope Scott House, and she’s looking forward to returning to a city in which she occasionally worked as a Heart of England blue badge tour guide in between acting jobs.

“I’ve always loved travelling and history and can remember having the most wonderful time touring around Hereford Cathedral,” she says.

“I’ve also performed at The Courtyard in shows such as Larkin, in which I appeared with John Telfer, who plays the Rev Alan Franks in The Archers.”

Sunny hopes her show will raise much-needed funds for Hope Scott House, which provides help to the homeless.

“The Archers has more than 5 million listeners and people love Lilian and seem to be fascinated to see what I am like,” explains Sunny, who lives near Stratford-on-Avon.

“The one thing we share is that we’re quite vivacious and like to laugh and have fun, but I’m not as brave as Lilian and, to be honest, I think she would find me quite boring: she’s this man-chasing, gin-drinking and cigarette smoking person who is a wonderful horsewoman and swimmer, and I like meditation, yoga, walking, gardening, geneology and going to the cinema and the theatre.

“What I would ask people is that they come and have a fun evening and support the charity – I was thrilled when Mary Schiavon Priebe contacted me to ask if I could do it; in this day and age the work it does is really important as so many people out there are struggling.”

Hope Scott House provides accommodation for 13 people, with 11 en-suite rooms and two self-contained residential pods. It’s based within an Edwardian building with a large rear garden and supports residents in moving into independent living with a feeling of positive self-worth and dignity.

To buy tickets for An Evening with Sunny Ormonde, visit the Hope Scott House website: